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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

God Sees You

Genesis 16

            There comes a time in almost every kid’s life when you’ve just had enough.  You’re full up with parents and their unreasonable demands, like going to school, changing your underwear - every single day, helping with chores and eating horrible tasting vegetables.  Why are they such slave drivers anyway?

            When you hit that wall, there’s nothing to be done except run away.  You know what I’m talking about.  You pack up a few toys you just can’t live without and hit the road.  Put all their games behind you.

            For fun, and to put us in the mindset of the runaway, I want to share a few notes left behind by kids who’ve resolved to run away from home.  I will spare you the spelling errors, however.

            “By the time you read this, I might be leaving.  If you want to see me again, I will be at the first McDonalds that you see when you go right from our house.  I love you.”

            “Mother and Dad, do not call the FBI or police.  I will be back Wednesday.  The reason why I have done this is because you are mean.”

            “Mom, I’m going to run away tomorrow at 9:30 when you and Dad are sleeping.  Be sure to say goodbye forever.  P.S., I will be back on Wednesday.”

            “Mom, I ran away not because you are mean or anything.  I only wanted to meet the Spice Girls.”  (From Ranker.com.)

Even when you’re trying to run away, God sees you.

            CONTEXT = Sarai tried to “fix” God’s plan in vs. 1-3.  She and Abram had been settled in Canann for 10 years.  In all that time, God had not kept His promise to give them a son.  This led to Abram marrying her slave, Hagar, and getting her pregnant.  When her plan backfired on her, Sarai looked for someone to blame. (4-5)  She blamed Abram, who wimped out and let Sarai deal with the situation as she saw fit.  What she saw as fitting was treating Hagar so harshly that she ran away. (6)  And that’s where we begin.

1. God saw Hagar and saved her. (7-12)

            As angelic encounters go, this was a pretty typical one. (7-8)  It starts by making it clear that the encounter was something the LORD initiated.  The use of the word FOUND does not imply the angel had to search for Hagar.  As we shall see, God was, as always, fully aware of her situation.

            Atypically, the angel did not start with “Do not fear.”  Typically, he asked questions for he already know the answer: first, “WHERE HAVE YOU COME FROM?” This question received an answer from Hagar, “I’m running away from my mistress.” (8)

            Second, he asked, “Where are you going?”  Hagar did not answer that question.  That may imply she did not want the angel to know where she was headed. Remember, Hagar is a runaway slave; she’s in a lot of trouble, desperate to escape capture.  The answer, however, is helpfully supplied by the narrator before the angel appeared (7).  She was beside a spring of water in the wilderness: getting water for a long trip?  The spring was located ALONG THE ROAD TO SHUR, which is a place just east of Egypt.

            Why go to Shur? There is a good chance that Hagar joined Abram’s household back in 12:16+20 as a gift from Pharoah, the king of Egypt.  In 25:12-18, we learn that Hagar’s son, Ishmael, ended up settling in Shur and he died there.

            Atypically, Hagar’s visitor is not any ordinary rank-and-file angel but was THE ANGEL OF THE LORD. (7)  The Bible teaches that the race of angels is organized in military fashion, with ranks of angels corresponding to the scope of their responsibilities.

            Bible scholars have different opinions about who THE ANGEL OF THE LORD is.  Some say it is an unnamed but high-ranking angel.  

            As we see in v.13, Hagar was convinced she had seen God Himself.  Years later, Abram’s grandson Jacob would have a similar experience in the sense that he encountered what the text identifies as angel but he identifies as God.  The Bible does not confirm or deny these statements by Hagar and Jacob, so it’s possible they were simply wrong,

            Looking at this passage through the lens of the New Testament, some see the Angel of the Lord as a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son, who would later be born as Jesus. (John 8:54-59; Hebrews 1:10-12)

            Any of these three views are potentially correct.  I simplify the question to simply say that whenever the ANGEL OF THE LORD shows up, God is doing something momentous in the world.  Pay attention because important things are going on.  In any case, what’s important is the message, not the messenger.  Let’s take a look at the angel’s message.

            The angel commanded Hagar to go back home, a command reinforced with promises. (9-12)  This was probably the last thing Hagar wanted to hear, but the angel commanded her to RETURN to Sarai and to SUBMIT to her authority.  That would be the exact opposite of Hagar’s previous attitude  which v. 5 described as being contemptuous of her mistress.

            The first promise the angel made to motivate Hagar’s obedience was “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” (10)  This sounds entirely like the promise God has repeatedly made to Abram.  The angel could make this promise because Abram was Ishmael’s father.  Though Ishmael was not God’s plan, he was not the son of the covenant, God graciously included Ishmael in the promise He made to Abram.

            The second promise the angel made to motivate Hagar’s obedience was that she was going to bear Abram a son.  That’s what all this was about in the first place, bearing Abram a son. (11)

            In making a full disclosure, the angel shared some details about her son’s future.  She was to name her son Ishmael which means, “God hears.”  Why that name?  The angel explained, “For  the LORD has heard your cry of distress.”  The boy’s name was important because it would be a constant reminder to Hagar that God was attentive to her situation. 

            The rest of the angel’s prediction sounds more like a warning than a promise.  “He will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey!”  “He will raise his fist against everyone and everyone will be against him.  Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”

            Given these facts and being aware of their historical fulfillment, I wonder why God chose to go ahead with the pregnancy?  First and foremost, God is pro-life.  God is always doing millions of things at once as He lives and works with us.  An equally simple, obvious answer is, “Because Ishmael was Abram’s son and God had promised to give Abram innumerable descendants.”  Though Ishmael was not God’s plan and not the heir to the promises, he was still Abram’s son.  As God loved Abram and covenanted with him, He graciously included Ishmael in that part of the promise.

2. Hagar responded with faith. (13-16)

            She had correct theology. (13-14)  She rightly understood God loved her and watched over her.  In v. 11, the angel assured Hagar God HEARD her CRY OF DISTRESS.  To the sense of hearing, Hagar added the sense of seeing, indicating she’d heard and accepted the angel’s message: God knew her sorrows and would take care of her and her son.  She gave Him a new name, “The God who SEES me.”

            In what is essentially a repeat of this episode in chapter 21, God would provide Hagar with another well (21:19).  God saved Hagar and Ishmael again.

            She obeyed God’s commands.  (15-16)  The series of events in chapter 16 is an example of the interplay of God’s will and ours as we experience this life.

- Sarai disobeyed God’s will and tried to “fix” things by offering her handmaid to Abram to be his second wife and bear him children.

- Hagar disobeyed God’s will by treating her mistress with contempt, bringing bitterness into their relationship.

- Abram disobeyed God’s will by going along with all this, not being the head of household and insist on trusting God.

            Despite human failure at every turn, God was gracious to spare Ishmael and give him material prosperity.  However, choices always have consequences.  The consequence attached to Ishmael was a lifetime of hostility followed by hostile descendants.  The conflict raging now in Gaza is a consequence of the disobedience of these three people.

            The text makes clear that Hagar, not God, gave Abram a son. Contrary to what Islam teaches, Isaac, not Ishmael, is the true son of promise. 

Even when you’re trying to run away, God sees you.

            Fourteen years after this event, God kept His promise to Abram and Sarai, and granted them a son, Isaac.  He was Abram’s true heir and through Isaac, not Ishmael, God’s people Israel trace their connection to Abram.  Shortly after that, Sarai prevailed on Abram to send away Hagar and Ishmael, who was a teenager by then.  In chapter 21 this scene is essentially repeated, though Hagar was no longer a runaway but as castaway.

            There we read about how God saved Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness. The promises made in chapter sixteen are repeated in chapter 21 and their fulfillment noted in chapter 25.  God keeps all His promises.  God sees those in need and grants grace to them to meet that need. 

            How is it encouraging to know the LORD hears and sees us?  How discouraging would it be to think otherwise?

 

RESOURCES:

            Runaway notes compiled from https://www.ranker.com/list/kids-running-away-notes/nathandavidson, retrieved on 12 January 2024.

            Allen Ross, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, Genesis (2008), pp. 114-118.

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